Not long ago I was asked what happens to the people who either follow other religions or who die without ever hearing about Jesus Christ. It’s an important issue because even if you take the most optimistic numbers possible, that is, if you add up all the people who might be remotely related to any group related to Christianity, the number comes to around two billion people. Taking that number as a starting point, that means there are four billion people who can’t possibly be called Christian by any definition. Included in that number are the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, followers of Confucius, the animists, and practitioners of various tribal religions. And there are hundreds of millions of secularists who practice no religion whatsoever. What happens to all those people when they die?
Back when George Bush was president, his wife Barbara and son George W. were having an intense discussion on this very point. George W. Bush argued that there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ. Barbara Bush said that surely God in his grace would have a plan for the sincere followers of other religions. Eventually Mrs. Bush said to someone, “Get me Billy Graham.” Since they were in the White House, the operators knew how to fulfill that request. Soon Dr. Graham came on the line and Barbara Bush told him about her discussion with George W. With great wisdom, Billy Graham said that as a follower of the New Testament, he had to agree with her son that the only way to heaven is through personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then he added that we shouldn’t try to answer questions that only God can finally answer. There will be many surprises when we get to heaven.
Both sides of that answer seem correct to me. The Bible does teach that Jesus Christ is “the way” to the Father and apart from Christ, there is no other way. The name of Jesus is the only name under heaven by which anyone may be saved. This is why Christ came to the earth-to seek and to save the lost. And this is why we send missionaries and why we share Christ with those who don’t know him. The Bible makes it plain that Jesus Christ is God’s appointed way of salvation. There is no Plan B for followers of other religions.
Having said that, we should also leave room for the mystery and mercy of God. Our Father intends to have a vast multitude of redeemed people from every tribe and nation gathered around the throne. No doubt some people will be there who will surprise us greatly. No one will get there apart from Jesus Christ. All will be trophies of his amazing grace.
We’re in sales, not administration. Our job is preach the gospel and call sinners to come to Christ. The rest is up to God.